When you’re nervous before a reading, open mic or a speaking event you’re that way because you don’t want to bomb . You don’t want to be humiliated and asked never to come back. You also don’t want to let your audience down. Maybe you’ve had a less-than-ideal speaking experience and you’re afraid lightning will strike twice. I’d like to share a few tips with you on how not to bomb, or at least how to bomb less! Now, let go of your nervousness and give your best performance to the people who have come to see you!
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If you’re an author giving a reading, know your audience! Are they familiar with your work or are they completely new to it? If they are new to it, warm them up by telling them why they’ll love your work and use humor! If you’re the first speaker, you won’t have a lot of material to riff about except complimentary stuff about the venue, the hosts and the warm crowd, but if you’re performing after an open mic segment or after another speaker, talk up the folks who have gone before you and give them a little love. Doing so will endear you to your audience.
I had a little issue with a speaking engagement when I realized that my talk was geared towards entrepreneurs and not corporate employees. Oh, boy! I should have asked my speaking coordinator who my audience was so I could prepare. But here I was and I spoke to them about how being creative and flexible would make them more effective in their presentations—something from the entrepreneur world that they may not deal with on a daily basis.
As you go about your life, collect anecdotes that will resonate with your audience and that will help you break the tension. Just be sure that they’re relevant to you and your reading.
Show Up Early
When you show up early rather than on time you give yourself the chance to arrange the room and get a feel for the acoustics. I’ve shown up early at gigs and have rearranged the chairs to go from a classroom to a U-pattern—it’s made all of the difference!
Don’t drink too much
This applies more at a reading or an open mic, but don’t drink even if you think it’ll help you when it’s your turn at the mic. Drink plenty of water and when you’re all through, then have your favorite adult beverage.
Rehearse your talk and material ahead of time—mark your pages if you’re reading from your book so you’re not thumbing randomly. Check to see where you’re stumbling and adjust. Time your talk so you’re going over or under. Preparing is vital for success and I consider this my most important tip.
Possessing strong speaking skills as an author is vital for your continued success. You might also consider using video to record your performances and then later see what you could have done better.
OK, so those are my tips on how not to bomb. What have I missed? Please feel free to add a few more suggestions in the comments for us!
Alice Osborn, M.A. is the author of three books of poetry, After the Steaming Stops, Unfinished Projects, and Right Lane Ends; she helps authors become business people and business people become authors. Alice teaches creative writing all over the country where she uses sensory images and road-tested prompts to stimulate her students’ best work. Her work has appeared in the News and Observer, The Broad River Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Soundings Review and in numerous journals and anthologies. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and two children. Visit her website at www.aliceosborn.com.
Originally posted 5/7/12